A Grandfather's Tale, Chapter 6, MERCHANT SLAVER



                                Duke Street, Liverpool
                                September, 1775

Edward Mason said this would happen.
There is a knot of Hard-men in the Chamber of Commerce. William James is one of them. A cattle-dealer turned slaver. Someone who thinks all livestock are the same -- that experience in one trade is sufficient qualification for success in the other.
James is a wealthy man, right enough. That much was obvious when the mob took his house and compting-rooms apart on Saturday. Such quantity of furnishings that remained after he and his family decamped to their country house were destroyed in full public view. Good rich stuff, an abundance of china and chintz, linens and plate, all tumbled into the street and smashed and thrown about, his papers and books torn to shreds and scattered to the wind.
When James returns he will find little left to drown his sorrows in either. During the crowd's rampage his cellar doors were kept wide open. What the rioters did not drink, they poured into the gutter.
There is a lesson here for those that boast they can cut a crew's wages and none will dare to talk back.

Mason has a good eye for judging character. He is an honest, shrewd man. He was with us in six Africa ships and was always straight in his accounts. His junior partner is made of the same sinew. A decent sort of young fellow. Not too forward in his manner, but nobody's fool. I think Cornelius Bourne will serve Edward well. 
He has just purchased his Freeman of the Borough from the council. Sparling says it cost him 50 guineas. No small sum for a young man starting out, but Bourne is from a landed family. He came up with enough capital to buy a small share in the Juba and the Marcia in '71, so he is not without a little substance.

Sparling is a more public man than I. He enjoys fuss and conversation and all that goes with being one of Liverpool's "Forty and one honest and discreet men of the burgesses of the Town" on the Common Council. 
In these troubling days he is seldom home. The situation requires him to be in constant attendance at the Exchange.
The Council has two types of merchant-members. There are the prominent and there are those who would like to be seen to be prominent. There are the names of substance, the Gildarts, the Earles, the Gregsons, and there are the names of the would-be monied, the Cases, Crosbies and Poles.
Sparling navigates the shoals, pleasing all, offending none.

I am not made for the Jostling Crowd. Even at the humbler meetings of the Chamber, I prefer the company of quiet men, sober men. Like Edward, and perhaps, in time, when he has become better established, young Bourne.

In calmer days I frequent Hinde's Tavern in St Nicholas churchyard. I like its whiteness against the grime of the old church tower. A perverse contrast. And it is conveniently situated adjacent to the George dock. I can do a morning's West Indies business on the waterside, and then cross the street for a midday chop.
After I have eaten it has been my custom to wander the gravestones, to settle my digestion. There is dark humour to be found on some of the tablets. No frills of pretence or false piety. In style it is a true Lancashire cemetery. One rhymme is especially unforgiving.
                'This Town's a Corporation full of crooked Streets,
                 Death is in the Market-place where all men meets;
                 If Life was merchandise that men could buy,
                The rich wou'd always live, the poor must die.'

This present Outrage started on Yates' ship, the Derby, a Guineaman. There were already in port a great many ships laid up and too many sailors in the distress of unemployment. Yates agreed for his crew to fit out the vessel at the previous rate of 30 shillings per month. When their work in running the rigging was completed, the men expected to receive their payment at the 'going rate', for the amount at which they had been engaged. Instead Yates refused to pay. He said that as there were plenty of hands to be had about the port to do such work, he would only pay them 20 shillings.
The sailors went back to the Derby and, in short time, had cut the whole of the rigging down and left it in a tangle on the deck. Yates alerted the Constables, who seized nine ringleaders and brought them before the Magistrates. The Magistrates committed the nine to prison and they were locked up in the Old Tower. The rest of the sailors erupted in anger and marched on the Gaol. Upwards of 2,000 surrounded the Tower and demanded the release of their leaders. First eight, and then the ninth, were let go to satisfy the crowd. The mob of rioters then began to parade about the town, in Triumph. The die was cast. Now it was a test of Strength between the merchants and the sailors.

I believe the word of a respectable man is his oath. In maritime affairs the spoken word is more common than a written deed. How can it be else when few of the lower classes can read or write? If what is promised by a man of property is not to be relied on, then what reason have the Poor for doing what they are told by their Masters? There would be no reward to obey their Betters and anarchy would ensue.

But it is too late now to be talking Reason. Property has been damaged and destroyed. Lawlessness and confusion rule our streets. The rebels must be hanged by the neck until dead. And hanged in large numbers, to cower the mob and send them scurrying back into their holes. Punishment must be harsh, and memorably so, if we are to prevent any recurrence.
The die is indeed cast, but by fools. It need not have been so. If only for a prudent word, uttered in timeliness, and we would not have been this facing chaos and disorder.

He came last night.
On a long, hot August evening.
A fourth day and night behind locked doors.
The stink of streets not scavenged and uncollected nightsoil hangs heavy, inside the walls and out, as if the bricks were no longer there.
A strange orange glow fills the sky.
Lightning flashes. The low rumble of distant thunder.
And a knock on the front door. Followed by three sharp raps. 
In the circumstances, caution is necessary.
I go upstairs and open the middle sash to look down.
At first the figure below does not move.
Covered in white dust, like a coachman who has lost his coach.
A single crated box rests on the step beside him.
Then he looks up.
"Got dem books, Boss"
I cannot get the words of reply to leave my mouth.
"Massa Lorenz send me, Boss. Wid dem books."
It starts to rain.

The Rabble have been busy on the docks, cutting down the rigging of all the ships fitting out, so they cannot sail. The number disabled by them is not as high as it would have been before the Troubles started again in the American colonies. Since the outbreaks began, most Guinea ships are laid up when they return to port. Few vessels are getting ready for sea with trade so slack.
The Government here has been over quick to stop the export of armaments to every place, which hits the Africa trade hard. No captain with his wits about him will head to the Coast without a good supply of guns. Native-traders demand muskets and powder and shot for their Negroes. Without firearms, slaves cannot be bought.
Sparling hears that Thomas Case has petitioned the Crown for a Special Licence to ship guns to Guinea. I am not surprised. Case is one of the loudest hard-men in the Chamber. He must always have his own way. The last word in every argument.

The mob are now well armed to roam the streets of Liverpool as they please. Rioters plundered Parr's the gunsmith, with up to 300 muskets stolen. They also have pistols, cutlasses and handspikes, which they use to strike Terror into the hearts of decent people.

The crowds dispersed for a short while after the merchants agreed to give the sailors their wages at the old rate. But on hearing that 300 able-bodied men had been hired by the Council to apprehend those most forward in the riot -- at 10 shillings per day -- they reassembled and marched on the Exchange to remonstrate with the Mayor. 
Stones were thrown. Windows were broken. The constables and volunteers within the building opened fire on the mob. Seven were shot dead and another forty wounded.
Next morning near 1,000 sailors surrounded the Exchange, brandishing their weapons and wearing red ribbons in their caps. They had passed the night hauling up six cannons from ships in the dock and lining them up in the streets that opened onto the building. They hoisted the Blood-Flag and then began blazing away at the walls of the Exchange.Such was the effect of their great guns and small arms that scarcely a pane of glass was left unshattered in the neighbourhood. Four more rioters were killed in this attack. 

Then the villains marched back down Water-street to Whitechapel, to Thomas Ratcliffe's house, for he was the first Guinea merchant seen to shoot at them the evening before. With their blunderbusses and cutlasses they stormed his house. Once inside they threw all his furniture out the windows, which those ouside in the street soon smashed to pieces. 
Ripping the mattresses and pillows open and scattering feathers and straw into the air. Breaking into drawers and chests full of clothes and linen and tearing them apart into rags.

Strange to say, in all this dreadful Confusion, they behaved very well to everyone, excepting only those to whom they owed a special grudge. The braggarts who announced their resolve over the sailors by reducing their wages are deeply unpopular. Ratcliffe, James, Yates, Simmons. These are the men whose houses were deliberately targeted on the day the Exchange was besieged.

Sparling is breathless with excitement when he tells me this news. He taunts me with stories of timid merchants, who approach street corners slowly, before peering round them to see if the way is clear, fear painting their faces pale. Sparling is more confident now that he has heard of a Company of soldiers leaving Manchester to come to our relief.

The Mob has done a Thousand Pounds of damage to James's house.
In destroying his furniture
They discovered a small Negro boy
Hid inside the clock-case
Whither he had fled for safety.

There is no news here, other than Sparling's.
Williamson's Advertiser is thin with the facts.
Gore's Register is similarly sparse.
"For a few days past
We have had much disturbance in town, 
With the sailors,
On account of their wages,
Which is now subsided."

All trade in the port is severely depressed. About 40 sail of Guineamen are now laid up, and all that may arrive will be laid up also, for the embargo on arms prevents any from merchandising. Even if there was encouragement for the sale of slaves in America. And the payment was good. Which it is not. 
Bills in the bottom are rarely to be had from the West Indies in these days. If they can by chance be got, their terms of maturing are monstrous long. Case's agents in Jamaica are paying for Negroes with Promissory Notes. Which are worthless. None of the London houses will guarantee their Acceptance.
Discount rates on Bills of Exchange have gone out in consequence of War Risk. Before 5%. Now 20%. If Paper is not taken by the slaver then he must take the same in cargo for the sugar-bakers at home. But Insuring the hull and its goods has risen too. Premiums are no longer 5% but nearer 30%. The third passage cannot be profitable at these prices.

I have not the stomach for anymore Black-birding. The loss of the Blundell has stripped me of my contentment in the Africa trade.
Sparling says it was not our ship, not our responsibility. We were prudent in writing insurance for our shares in the voyage. Some small financial loss will accrue to us but we have more than sufficient solvency to stand the blow.
His summary is consistent with the bare facts of the matter. And he is quite sensible to the importance of our commercial liquidity. Despite this, I remain unsettled.
I am uncomfortable with congratulating Captain Dawson and his crew for their survival of shipwreck. Dawson's skin is saved in the ship's boat but many hundreds of valuable merchandise sank beneath the green waters of the Atlantic. In the unspoken corner of the captain's tale, the slaves were abandoned, still shackled into their places below deck, without keys to unlock their chains, conscious of their doom as the ocean rises around them, sucked down and drowned with the ship.
I cannot celebrate this. Accidents at sea are a natural hazard. But the awful submergence of 443 struggling black faces in a cruel sea? I cannot forget this.

There is an oddity from these past few days that has given Sparling cause to chuckle. He especially admires pluck in young ladies. In truth, he is much in admiration of young ladies, plucky or not. However...
Gangs of armed sailors have taken to knocking on the front doors of houses in the better streets of Liverpool, demanding money for themselves and their families while they are without work. One such group approached the house of merchant William Leece in Water-street. Only the female servants and his daughter were at home. Miss Leece, knowing enough not to show fear to the ruffians, stepped smartly to the door and inquired of their leader what they wanted. This British seaman was evidently surprised by her courage and composure, and saw that he was in the presence of a young lady of some character. Jack Tar did not forget his manners. He took off his hat and stood with his head uncovered, while in respectful language, he made his plea and asked for money. Having received it, he politely thanked Miss Leece, and then he and his gang withdrew. Without doing any other mischief whatever, although it was clearly in their power to do so.

Sparling is much cheered in relating this episode. But I, as a law-abiding householder of the Town, have an altogether different reaction. The threatening cheek of these rascals just makes very bloody Angry.

We have been lucky here. There are merchants aplenty in Duke-street, and wealthy ones too. I am at number 95, Sparling at 99. Lower in the street, towards the Old Dock, Mr James Gildart, Mr Richard Watt, and Mr Kent reside. Higher up, towards the old quarry road, Mr Thomas Leyland, Mr Clayton Tarleton and Mr John Gregson. Why then this street has so far been spared the indignities of Begging with Menaces I am unable to guess.

According to Sir Edward Coke's reading of our Common Law, an Englishman's home is his Castle. I am proud of my castle. I am proud of my address. All the houses hereabouts are in the modern style, three and five bays wide and two or three storeys high, well made in handsome dark brick.
To think that the walls of my fortress can be so easily breached by a pack of marauding dogs is an Insult past sufferance, a wound too grievous to be silently borne.
This Town must never again be caught without its own garrison of troops.
The King's Own Red-coats, fully armed and mounted, with permanent barracks for them and their horses.
Recruited from the other side of England, so they will not hesitate to skewer the Bastard Rabble with the steel of their bayonets.

At St Thomas' Church, Park Lane, Liverpool
On the seventeenth day of November, seventeen hundred and seventy-two,
WILLIAM BOLDEN, bachelor of this parish, and 
SOPHIA THOMPSON, spinster of this parish, were
Married under Licence, by John Lever, Minister.
Witnessed by John Sparling and Alice Bolden.

My Wife is so often unwell.
I am without Issue.

These Tempests strike me suddenly.
They build up behind me, as it were, and take me unawares.
The swell grows into a wave without making a sound.
A silent, smooth rounding that barely moves the boat in passing underneath,
Until its gathering reaches the moment of impossible heaping,
And it Breaks, crashing down on my head.

John Lawrence writes from Virginia. He found the Boy at Peter's Point on the Appomattox. Lawrence was watching the unloading of hogsheads from an upriver bateaux when he recognised one of the boatmen.
He commissioned the Boy immediately to take the firm's Ledgers out of harm's way, getting him passage on one of the last ships to leave Norfolk for England, before the fighting halted all traffic. Lawrence told the Boy, "The Boss needs you."

One of the maids screamed when I took the Boy through to the kitchen last night. I explained that although he was once a Savage from Africa, he was now a civilised Negro from America --  once a slave, now my new manservant. The maid quieted some and prepared him a bowl of porridge for his hunger.
She will become accustomed to him soon enough. There was not a kitchen-maid in the Colony of Virginia who could resist his appetite for her cooking. As yet though, it is expected she will remain wary of the Black-man standing in the corner of her domain.

Once this present unrest is subdued by the soldiers from Manchester, I intend visiting the Kirkham flax-mills for business. I think now that I will take the Boy with me. His Sable appearance will provide a Novelty in the Lancashire countryside -- a talking point that will do my reputation as a man of means no harm. The manners of making money are oft-times boosted by such small conceits.



  1. I am researching the Gildarts of Liverpool and A Grandfather's Tale has filled in so many holes for me - particularly on the Virginia Trade. Many, many thanks!

    One question. I have read a letter in a newspaper (the Liverpool Mercury I think) that mentions the destruction of a house owned by James but you have more detail in your description. Do you happen to know if this was one of the James Gildarts?

    Once again thats for an excellent series.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

American Story: Burwell Boykin

A Grandfather's Tale: Chapter 3, THE VIRGINIA TRADE